Sunday, May 24, 2009

Archive: December 18, 1995 (a different President Roh answers charges on taking $369 million in kickbacks)

I have a hundred different virtual, mental, and actual post-it notes that I am trying to organize into a piece on former President Roh Moohyun who apparently committed suicide yesterday by jumping off a thirty-meter cliff near his home. I may end up releasing some of them one by one, so I can get some of it out there and, more importantly, so I don't make a too-long-didn't-read post.

I'll start with this one, which was part of my response to reijene about what exactly Roh Moohyun is supposed to have done wrong. That answer took me back into the Time Magazine archives, which prompted me now to revive an old tradition here at Monster Island, printing old news and personal interest stories from the past.

Roh Moohyun is being investigated for at least $6 worth of corruption, which underscores the glaring hypocrisy of this man who promised to be the candidate of clean politics. That hypocrisy is his biggest failure, as his crime appears to be far less than that of his predecessors, who themselves ended up pardoned after short stays in prison.

[above: Disgraced former ROK presidents Chun Doo-hwan (전두환), in foreground at right, and Roh Tae-woo (노태우), in foreground in middle, on trial in 1995 for treason and corruption. (click photo for source)]

Hence the archive piece from 1995, during the Kim Youngsam administration:
Inside a packed Seoul courtroom, former South Korean President Roh Tae-woo took the stand Monday to answer charges that he accepted $369 million in kickbacks from businesses while in office. Roh admitted that he took money from chaebol, the group of 40 or so huge industrial conglomerates that dominate South Korea's economy, but said that he did not sell his influence to private interests. Roh said he received $32 million from Samsung, the nation's biggest conglomerate, but maintained he could not remember who gave him all the money he received while in office. The trial is expected to rock South Korean politics, not only bringing down some top politicians connected to Roh, but also casting the leaders of the country's largest businesses under a cloud of corruption. So far, executives from 36 firms have been questioned by prosecutors, and several are likely to face arrest. If convicted, the 63-year old former president could face life inprisonment.
As I mentioned here, Roh Moohyun's corruption will be noted for its hypocrisy, not its severity. Roh admitted fault and would likely have been convicted and sentenced to prison, but eventually pardoned and released, like his predecessors whose crimes were far worse (as far as we know).

[above: Seven years later, former South Korean presidents Kim Daejung (김대중), Kim Youngsam (김영삼), Roh Tae-woo (노태우), and Chun Doo-hwan (전두환) greet each other at Roh Moohyun's inauguration, February 25, 2003. (click photo for source)]

Democracies generally don't like putting former heads-of-state in jail. Even though, arguably, people like Nixon, George W. Bush, and especially Cheney all deserve(d) to be there. Nixon, eventually, became something of an elder statesman.


  1. It's naive to think that politicians do not recieve money, under the table or "donated" by a supporter.

    NO politician in any country can say they're innocent about not receiving money. One of the reasons why i lost interest on politics... it's too predictable.

    And people are just too dumb to jump on a bandwagon they don't understand. Politicians need those "donations" because usually, government fundings are not enough. Corrupt politicians will pocket it, but the decent ones (even a bit) will usually divide the amount if not give all. But i seriously doubt that. =P

    and thanks, kushibo. =)

  2. I think you're right. Quid pro quo is the way of politics, like speeding or coming to "a rolling stop" at a stop sign. The best we can do is distinguish between acceptable levels of this type of activity and egregious examples, in which we go after the latter.

    But at the same time, we should curb its occurrence. If Roh Moohyun's family had an expectation of legal financial security after leaving the Blue House, there would have been less impetus for this to happen.

    At the very least, it's something to consider for future presidencies.

    I follow politics because I want to support those who are doing things I think are necessary, like maintaining national security in Korea or promoting universal health care in the US, among other issues. That doesn't mean I have to like the politicians, but I will accept that some of them are — necessarily — involved in some quid pro quo.


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